travelling with a toilet

Travelling with a toilet (or not): the lowdown

Before embarking on our trip we spent a lot of time (much more than we care to admit) discussing matters of a toileting nature. We ummed and we ahhed and we ummed some more. Eventually, as mentioned in our Touring Gear for Travelling Australia post, we decided that the day we needed a toilet and didn’t have one would be a very bad day. So we went out and bought a reputable Thetford port-a-potti. Though it’s a quality product, in hindsight – and had we done more research – we may have made a different choice. Here’s an overview of things to consider before you make your own travelling toilet arrangements.

What options are there?

We’ve listed these in ascending order, glamour-wise:

  • the trusty shovel option: of course, this isn’t appropriate everywhere and do be sure to go well away from water sources, dig a suitably deep hole and (please, oh please!) remove and/or burn your toilet paper
  • foldable ‘drop’ toilet: again, this isn’t appropriate everywhere and isn’t feasible if you are constantly on the move. You’ll also definitely need to carry a privacy tent and be prepared to cope with unpleasant odours
  • as above, except using specially designed bio-waste composting bags (like the BoiToi, or Jimmy’s Thunderbox). We may have tried a composting bag option had we done some research. It would be especially useful for those times we leave our caravan behind. We’d like to try one of these products to get an idea of how sustainable they are in terms of cost-per-use. It doesn’t look like either of these companies sell “one use” bags but we reckon these would be pretty handy
  • port-a-potties: though compact compared to a normal toilet, these are relatively bulky to carry on the road and a hassle to empty (which you have to do every 3 days). If you get a small one, they’re also not very comfortable!
  • cassette toilets: although cassette toilets still require emptying, the overall toilet experience is usually much more comfortable than a port-a-potti (similar to using a normal plumbed toilet in a house). Plus, emptying is easier since the cassette is usually fitted so that it can be accessed from the exterior of the vehicle. However, retro-fitting cassette toilets to a vehicle can be tricky, so they may not be a suitable option for older vehicles
  • dry/composting toilets: (like these) though these sound impressive we’ve not seen or used one

I’m happy to rough it. Can I?

Some camping sites require ‘self-containment’ as a condition of entry. This means you won’t be allowed to stay unless you’re carrying your own toilet. We made it through the Victorian and South Australian coast lines without encountering one site that had this requirement. Lots of places offered basic drop toilets or none at all, so as long as we were prepared to rough it (or contained our toilet trips to times when we could access public facilities) we were fine.

However, there are a number of camp sites, particularly on the west coast, which won’t allow you to stay unless you’re self-contained, or even fully self-contained*. So figure out where you’re going and do your research. Depending on where your travels will be taking you it might be worth starting without a bulky toilet system and seeing how you go. You can always buy one if you need one.

*’Fully self-contained’ means carrying your grey water (i.e. your sink and shower waste) as well as your black (toilet) waste

If you do go ahead with purchasing a port-a-potti here are some of our tips:

  • Think about where you will actually use the port-a-potti. If you don’t have somewhere suitable look into buying a privacy tent. Our caravan has a small shower/bathroom area which we now use for storage. However, initially we did use the toilet in there and it was very cramped and not at all pleasant
  • Thetford (or whichever brand port-a-potti you buy) will probably recommend using a special rinse chemical with each flush. From what we’ve read this pretty much just gives the toilet a pleasant smell so you can skip buying it and save your cash
  • When it comes to toilet chemicals, some are more “eco” than others (ie the Thetford green chemical is suitable for disposal in septic tanks, while the blue chemical is not). While we initially purchased the “eco” chemical, we’ve read a few articles which suggest cheaper, more earth-friendly alternatives. The most popular of these is laundry products whose active ingredient is sodium percarbonate. We still have plenty of the green chemical left but we’ll definitely explore the sodium percarbonate option when we run out. Here are some tips for its use:
    • After emptying and refilling the holding tank place one dose of sodium percarbonate-based product inside (the dose will vary depending on your holding tank size: somewhere between a Tbsp, a cap full or a 1/4 cup should do). Follow this with a spoonful of product after each subsequent use.
    • If you’re not going to be driving anywhere it’s worth agitating the toilet after adding the product so that it will dissolve. Otherwise it won’t be as effective
    • Sodium percarbonate is most effective at controlling odour for “number 2s”, so don’t only use the toilet for weeing
    • If you are using standard chemicals and decide to switch to nappy soaker give your toilet a really good clean out and soak the holding tank in a solution of the new chemical (i.e. sodium percarbonate) for 12-24 hours. This will help to avoid a reaction between the existing and newly introduced chemicals
  • Apparently it’s fine to use one ply toilet paper rather than buy the expensive stuff recommended by the toilet-makers. We bought a discounted packet of the expensive stuff when we bought our toilet and we haven’t gone through it yet but we will definitely try one ply toilet paper when we finish it. We also highly recommend purchasing earth friendly, recycled toilet paper
  • Lots of nomads recommend olive oil as a suitable lubricant for the port-a-potti seals rather than buying an expensive tailored product. We haven’t tried this but probably will down the track

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